Leading an Exemplary Life

Shakuntala_RRV“How can we set an example, when we barely know what we are doing?” This was the response from our group to the Gita’s injunction this week, which asked that we not only perform our duties, but do so in an exemplary manner, one which inspires and informs others.

Yes, it’s true we are novices on this journey. We are trying to figure out and implement week by week the teachings of the Gita, teachings that seem to be getting progressively more difficult. What gives us the right to lead when we ourselves are lost?

I think the idea here is not that we must attain perfection before we can model proper behavior. The idea is that since we are compelled to work, to fulfill our duties, then it behooves us to fulfill them in such a manner that we can educate those around us. Even our struggles then become an example.

The fact that we are spending an hour each week, delving into the mysteries of the Gita together come what may, the stubborn effort we are showing in practicing the sometimes difficult assignments despite failing repeatedly, the fact that we are prioritizing our spiritual growth, are all messages to those around us that we find this important and valuable and fulfilling enough to keep pursuing.

As a result, the Gita class we began five months ago multiplied this week into three different sessions. We now have three different groups, each with their own set of members, with their own backgrounds and challenges to overcome, with their own goals to reach. It’s been a wonderful eye opening experience for me to navigate those groups this past week, to see the similarities and the differences, and the universal thirst for happiness that binds us all despite disparities in age, background and life experience.

I like to think that our original group, novices as we are, has set an example, merely by existing. Our struggles and our questions, documented on this blog, have highlighted our journey and its value. While not everyone will see that value, our job is to continue to struggle and at the same time inspire. So despite the fact that we are not perfect, and are far from realized, I see why the Gita demands us to lead by example and to live a life that, in the transparency of its struggle to reach the goal, as Satya Sai Baba always insisted, itself becomes the message.

We realized this week that this idea of an exemplary life should pervade not just the spiritual struggle but every facet of our daily lives. Our homework was to live each day as if we were living in a bubble, our very own reality show, each action being observed and serving as an example to the world. How would we act in any given situation if we knew we were being watched and possibly emulated? Can we lose our temper so easily? Can we watch mindless television for quite so many hours? Can we indulge in gluttony? What would change? What would we do better? What would we stop doing?

Leading an exemplary life, it seems,  is not the domain of the perfect or the realized. It is the duty of every spiritual seeker, a heavy responsibility to be sure, but one that allows us to examine our own actions on a constant basis, a basic prerequisite for any meaningful progress.

Image: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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